Teaching Monetary Policy – Every Breath You Take – Every Change of Rate (Fed Funds Rate)

Here is a really funny video by the students of Columbia Business School (CBS) – you may have seen it before but I find it very useful when you start teaching monetary policy and interest rates.

Back in 2006 Alan Greenspan vacated the role of chairman of the US Federal Reserve and the two main candidates for the job were Ben Bernanke and Glenn Hubbard. Glen Hubbard was (and still is) the Dean at Columbia Business School and was no doubt disappointed about losing out to Ben Bernanke. His students obviously felt a certain amount of sympathy for him and used the song “Every Breath You Take” by The Police to voice their opinion as to who should have got the job. They have altered the lyrics and the lead singer plays Glenn Hubbard.

Some significant economic words in it are: – interest rates, stagflate, inflate, bps, jobs, growth etc.

Stagflation – 1970’s v Today

The Financial Times had a good piece about the current state of the global economy and the likeness of the stagflation of the 1970’s. Using that article and other sources I have attempted to differentiate between what was happening then and the current situation with the war in the Ukraine. With oil still having an impact in an economy today this could be the catalyst needed for more greener technologies but this is not going to help in the short-term. Therefore, for global oil prices to stabilise there needs to be an increase in the output of OPEC countries and the likes of Venezuela which could add 400,000 bpd to oil output – the US has been in talks with President Maduro. However, there is a dilemma here in that you may reduce oil prices by getting Venezuela to increase production but you are also assisting an authoritarian regime that is closely linked with Russia.

Source: War brings echoes of the 1970s oil shock. FT 12th March 2022

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Inflation. Immediate feedback and tracked results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

Global Stagflation and the threat to democracy.

In my economics classes this week one cannot get away from what is happening in Ukraine and the impact of that geopolitics will have on the global economy. Already I wrote a blog post on Russian interest rates and the collapse of the rouble but what are the challenges ahead for the global economy?

Before the invasion central banks worldwide were tightening monetary policy (interest rates) to reduce the increasing inflation pressure in their economy’s. The price of oil has increased to over US$105 adding to the inflationary problem as policy makers still have to deal with the slow recovery from the COVID pandemic. However the US Federal Reserve (US Central Bank) and the European Central Bank (ECB) have indicated that they intend to continue with their tightening policy of 25 basis points (0.25%) increase in interest rates this month but may have to be less aggressive in their future tightening. Their major concern now is that the war in Ukraine has increased the chances of a period of stagflation – stagnation and inflation at the same time. Therefore it is important that central banks are more sensitive to tightening their monetary policy as adding the Ukrainian crisis (with higher oil and food prices) to the present supply chain issues would increase the chances of stagflation and a significant downturn in the global economy.

Stagflation
In economic textbooks there are two main cause of inflation – Demand Pull and Cost Push (see graph below).

Source: Eleareconomics

The inflation that New Zealand is mainly experiencing is of a cost push nature especially when you look at the recent CPI figure of 5.9%. The major driver of this inflation is:

  • 30.5% rise in the cost of petrol
  • 15.7% rise in the associated cost in buying a new dwelling.
  • 4.1% increase in the food group

What you notice from the graph is that when the AS curve shifts left not only does inflation increase but also output and employment decrease. The last major stagflationary period was during the oil crisis years of 1973 (oil price up 400%) and 1979 (up 200%) – see video below from the Philadelphia Fed.

But when will these cost pressures ease in New Zealand? With a 5.9% inflation rate employees will put significant pressure on employers for wage increases and this is when there is already a very tight labour market (3.2% unemployment).

Final thought
2022 is going to be a very difficult year for the economy with both demand and supply issues:
Demand: higher inflation will mean a tightening of interest rates which will reduce spending and increase the debt burden.
Supply: higher energy costs, supply chain problems, increase in material costs and availability of parts for industry.

Add to this the war in Ukraine and we are in for a rocky ride. However the possible suffering is necessary if it nullifies the threat on global democracy.

For more on Stagflation view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

Inflation – causes and examples from the global economy.

Here is an excellent video from CNBC which includes news clips from the 1970’s and beyond. Below are some of the main points:

  • 1960 – pint of milk in the UK 3p. Today 50p
  • Cost Push Inflation – today: supply-chain bottlenecks, shipping costs rising, labour shortages
  • Demand Pull Inflation – usually associated with an economy operating near full capacity
  • Milton Friedman – inflation a monetary phenomenon and the domain central banks.
  • With the expansion of money why has there been little inflation recently? Velocity of circulation is not evident – i.e. number transactions.
  • CPI – Headline Inflation but Core Inflation is more valuables it takes out volatile components of the CPI which have no reflection on the strength of their economy – e.g. oil. Gives you a better idea of the inflation trend.
  • A little bit of inflation is good – ‘Goldilocks’ not too hot but not too cold.
  • Hyperinflation – Brazil – 1980-1995. Weimar Republic – issues 100 Trillion D Mark note.
  • !970’s – Stagflation – wage price spiral – higher interest rates 20% – trade-off was the higher unemployment rate.
  • Central Banks – focus on inflation but also avoid a deflationary environment.

Are we heading into Stagflation?

There is concern that the current mix of expansionary monetary (near 0% interest rates) and fiscal (lower taxes and increasing government spending with COVID-19) policies will excessively stimulate aggregate demand and lead to inflationary overheating. Add to this negative supply shocks and you have an increase in production costs. This combination could lead to a 1970’s stagflation – rising inflation and unemployment – see graph below. Since the days of stagflation in the US and UK in the 1970’s inflation has been the number one target for central bankers. The main cause of inflation during this period was the price of oil –

  • 1973 – 400%↑ – supply-side– Yom Kippur War oil embargo
  • 1979 – 200%↑ – supply-side – Iran Iraq War
Source: The Economist

US President Jimmy Carter’s attempts to follow Keynes’s formula and spend his way out of trouble were going nowhere and the newly appointed Paul Volcker (US Fed Governor in the 1970’s) saw inflation as the worst of all economic evils. Below is an extract of an interview from the PBS series “Commanding Heights”

“It came to be considered part of Keynesian doctrine that a little bit of inflation is a good thing. And of course what happens then, you get a little bit of inflation, then you need a little more, because it peps up the economy. People get used to it, and it loses its effectiveness. Like an antibiotic, you need a new one; you need a new one. Well, I certainly thought that inflation was a dragon that was eating at our innards, so the need was to slay that dragon.”

The policy of the time was Keynesian – inject more money into the system in order to get the economy moving again. This was also the case in the UK in the early 1970’s but Jim Callaghan’s (Labour PM in the UK ousted by Thatcher in 1979) speech in 1976 had reluctantly recognised that this policy had run its course and a monetarist doctrine was about to become prevalent. Below is an extract from the speech.

“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment. That is the history of the last twenty years”

With this paranoia about inflation central bankers began to implement a monetary policy targeting inflation in the medium term. In NZ the Reserve Bank Act 1989 established “price stability” as the main objective of the RBNZ. “Price stability” is defined in the PTA (Policy Target Agreement) as keeping inflation between 1 to 3% (originally 0-2%) – measured by the percentage change in CPI. Around the world central banks were adopting a more independent approach to policy implementation and with targeting inflation a new prevailing attitude seemed to be like an osmosis and suggesting that low prices = macro-economic stability as well. Also, raising interest rates is an unpopular political move and governments could now blame the central bank for this contractionary measure.

So are we now concerned that we will be entering another period of stagflation? Like the 1970’s we do have a supply-side issue (although not oil based) and expansionary demand side. The following are concerns:

Growth – Supply bottlenecks have led to growth slowdown in the US, China, Europe and the other major economies. Furthermore the Delta variant is increasing production costs as well as impacting the labour supply and ultimately reducing output growth. There is also the problem of moral hazard in that generous unemployment benefits are reducing the incentive to find work.

Demand Side – Excessive fiscal stimulus for an economy that already appears to be recovering faster than expected and it is assumed that the US Federal Reserve and other central banks will start to unwind their unconventional monetary policies. Combined with some fiscal drag next year (when deficits may be lower), this supposedly will reduce the risks of overheating and keep inflation at bay.

Supply Side – Again Delta is impacting many global supply chains, ports and logistical systems. Shortages of semi-conductors impacts the car industry as well as electronic goods thus increasing in inflation. Will the global supply side be positively influenced by better use of technological innovation in artificial intelligence and the return to normality on global supply distribution networks. Also will demand pressure eventuate especially when the threat of unemployment is ever present.

Although there are negative price shocks which could deter potential growth, expansionary fiscal and monetary policy could still increase the inflation rate. The resulting wage-price spiral could lead to astagflationary environment worse than the 1970s – when the debt-to-GDP ratios were lower than they are now. That is why the risk of a stagflationary debt crisis will continue to loom over the medium term.

Source: The Stagflation Threat Is Real – Nouriel Roubini – Project Syndicate 30th August 2021

India’s economy needs an overhaul

India’s new government have the challenge of trying to bolster its GDP from the industrial sector. For too long its economy has been going backwards with investment dropping and households shifting their money away from savings and into gold. The Economist identified 3 tasks for the incoming government:

1. Sort out the corrupt banks – bad debts have escalated and banks have chosen to “extend and pretend” loans to zombie firms. The cost of cleaning up the banks is estimated to be 4% of GDP. Healthy banks are needed to finance a new cycle of investment.
2. Stagflation must be dealt with – high inflation and high unemployment (see graph below). High borrowing has fueled inflation and consumers have run to the safety of gold as a store of value for their money. This has meant an increasing deficit in the balance of payments. The central bank is looking at introducing inflation targeting (1-3% in NZ)
3. Developing higher skilled jobs – a lot of Asian countries have benefitted greatly from low cost labour. With labour costs rising in China and 10 million people entering the labour force each year in India, there is a great opportunity to attract foreign investment. This is particularly prevalent when you consider that Japanese firms are now nervous about the on-going military tensions with China and therefore looking at other low cost countries.

For the Indian economy to move forward they will have to ensure investors that the factors of production – land, labour, capital – are reliable and at a competitive price.

Stagflation

Interest Rates under Volcker, Greenspan and Bernanke

Here is a chart from WSJ Graphics which shows the level of interest rates in the US from 1980 to today. With the stagflation of the 1970’s Paul Volcker was faced with some very tough decisions. Below is an extract from an interview with him on the PBS Commanding Heights documentary.

It came to be considered part of Keynesian doctrine that a little bit of inflation is a good thing. And of course what happens then, you get a little bit of inflation, then you need a little more, because it peps up the economy. People get used to it, and it loses its effectiveness. Like an antibiotic, you need a new one; you need a new one. Well, I certainly thought that inflation was a dragon that was eating at our innards, so the need was to slay that dragon.

If you had told me in August of 1979 that interest rates, the prime rate would get to 21.5 percent, I probably would have crawled into a hole. I would have crawled into a hole and cried, I suppose. But then we lived through it.

US Interest rates 1979-2014

US inflation and Unemployment under last 3 Fed Chairman

Below is a graphic from the WSJ which outlines inflation and unemployment under the last 3 Fed Chairmen – Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke. From the stagflation that was slain by Volker to the irrational exuberance of the Greenspan years and finally the financial contraction under Ben Bernanke. In the 1970’s Volcker tightened the money supply, the economy slowed and contracted – unemployment reached 10 percent. By August 1979 the prime interest rate got to 21.5% but by 1982 the inflation problem had been extinguished. However this was after 3 years of real hardship for the American people. Today we see that inflation isn’t the problem that it used to be and that stimulating growth and job creation is required.

Infl Unemp Fed Chairs

Bad figures for Brazil

Recent growth and inflation figures spell bad news for the Brazilian economy. You would normally associate inflation as a consequence of higher growth rates but this looks like potential stagflation – stagnant growth and inflation. Although it is not as threatening as the stagflation era of the 1970’s, one wonders how the economy will get on hosting the World Cup and the Olympics games. You would have thought with these forthcoming events that economic growth would be generated with the huge infrastructure development required.

Brazil - Inflation GDP

Inflation: what you need to know

The Guardian newspaper recently produced a useful article about inflation. Although UK based it covers issues such as: stagflation; a historical look at inflation globally (see below); is high inflation good for anyone; why do governments target inflation. Click here for the article.

Global Inflation
The record of the highest inflation globally was long held by Germany in the Weimar Republic years when money was carted around in wheelbarrows. In December 1923 prices were more than 85,000,000,000% higher than a year earlier and the highest denomination bank notes had a face value of more than 1,000,000,000,000 marks. In post-revolution Russia, inflation reached 60,804,000% that year – some economic historians believe the government deliberately stoked inflation to impoverish the better off.

But after the second world war, Hungary suffered the highest inflation ever recorded. In the peak month of July 1946, prices were doubling in little more than 12 hours. Other countries that have seen sky-high price rises include China during the civil war from 1945 to 1949, Greece in 1944, Argentina in the 1980s and war-ravaged Yugoslavia in 1994.

More recently, Zimbabwe made headlines for soaring inflation, with price rises hitting 66,212% in December 2007 – the highest inflation in the world at that time. The highest denomination bank note had a face value of 10,000,000 Zimbabwe dollars.

By contrast, Japan experienced a long period of deflation during the “lost decade” of the 1990s.